Owning a small business can instill a sense of pride and purpose. It can also bring dispiriting moments—few more frustrating than losing merchandise to theft. Fortunately, there are tools proven to prevent retail theft. Chief among these are anti-theft devices, including security tags that latch onto retail store items, locking display cases, security mirrors, and security cameras. Here’s an overview of the devices you can use to prevent theft in your retail stores.
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What are anti-theft devices?
Anti-theft devices are products and technologies that work alongside store personnel and guards to prevent shoplifting and boost retail security.
Some anti-theft devices latch onto items and are removed at the point of purchase. Others, like cameras and mirrors, enable staff to observe and record suspicious behavior and activity. Another category of merchandising security involves restricting access to items, including using cases with physical locks or storing high-value items behind a counter.
How do anti-theft devices help protect retailers?
Anti-theft devices help protect retailers through deterrence, detection, thief identification, and loss prevention. Here’s what this means:
By making shoplifting more difficult, anti-theft devices can deter theft before it occurs. Seeing no easy way to steal an item, potential shoplifters may simply abandon their scheme. A National Retail Foundation study found installing electronic article surveillance (EAS) systems can reduce theft by up to 80%.
When a shoplifter tries to steal, anti-theft devices can promptly alert store employees, thwarting the theft and ensuring the stolen item isn’t taken.
Anti-theft devices can identify shoplifters through image recording or fingerprint capture, assisting in apprehension and prosecution, and deterring future theft.
By preventing, detecting, and identifying theft, anti-theft devices can help reduce the financial losses resulting from theft.
Types of anti-theft devices for retailers
- Locking display cases
- EAS systems
- RFID tags
- Security guards
- Store layout choices
Anti-theft devices work by harnessing technology, psychology, and store layout. Cutting-edge technology can monitor the movement of products, while simpler devices like mirrors and cameras serve as constant reminders of surveillance. Strategic layout decisions, like keeping high-value items behind glass or near the checkout counter, can also deter criminals.
Here’s an overview of the anti-theft devices available to retailers:
Locking display cases
Retailers often use display cases with physical locks to house frequently targeted merchandise—typically easy-to-carry, high-value items, like razors in drug stores or mobile phones in electronics stores.
Locking display cases are cheaper than more technologically advanced options like EAS systems and store security cameras. However, they’re known to dampen the customer experience because shoppers must summon store personnel—who may be in short supply—to open the cases, or they may feel self-conscious about examining a product while an employee waits, impacting their willingness to spend.
Electronic article surveillance (EAS) systems are security systems that use tags and sensors to prevent theft of retail merchandise by triggering alarms when an item exits a store without proper deactivation. EAS devices have three main components: security tags, deactivation units, and detection systems. Security tags are attached to merchandise, deactivation units remove or deactivate them at checkout, and detection systems alert staff if tags pass through store exits.
Alternatively, a cashier can remove the EAS tag without deactivating it, which might be necessary if the customer can’t properly look at an item while the tag is attached, such as with plastic tags used by clothing retailers and spider-style enclosures that cover electronics boxes. Some products, like clothes and accessories can also be protected through a low-tech version of EAS systems: ink tags. These tags release ink if they’re incorrectly removed, which can be a deterrent to shoplifters.
Compared to locking display cases, EAS systems offer greater convenience for shoppers. They also free up store personnel to focus on sales, stocking, and customer service. The downside is an EAS system can be expensive and may need to be updated over time.
Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags are small electronic devices that use radio waves to transmit and store information for tracking and identification purposes. RFID technology is considered more secure than EAS but more expensive to implement. An RFID tag does not necessarily trigger an alarm (it only does so when paired with an EAS system) and doesn’t require activation or deactivation at the point of sale.
RFID tags can serve both as a preventive measure against theft and as a means to track stolen items, depending on how they’re integrated into your security system. RFID technology is typically not a standalone solution for security, and it is often used in conjunction with other measures.
Many RFID tags are installed by manufacturers or wholesalers before products reach retail stores. They’re always on and can be read by RFID readers throughout the supply chain. As such, they’re used for a broader range of applications, including inventory management, supply chain tracking, and product authentication. Hidden RFID tags can also track stolen items when they’re resold.
Store mirrors are one of the oldest, simplest, and cheapest ways to deter potential theft. Store owners install them in strategic locations—often corners—to monitor suspicious activity and survey blind spots.
Store cameras serve a similar purpose as mirrors with one crucial upside: They can help you spot suspicious behavior and record shoplifters. These video recordings can help law enforcement apprehend and prosecute suspects and help store owners identify shoplifters who repeatedly target their stores.
Cameras also serve as a deterrence to would-be thieves who may fear having their actions recorded on camera. In many cases, the most significant value is preventing crime before it occurs.
Alarm systems monitor your retail location’s exterior, alerting you to any breach through doors, windows, walls, or ceilings, deterring potential thieves during off-hours.
These alarms are not to be confused with those in EAS systems, which go off when tagged merchandise passes through a detection system. However, both alarms prevent theft and help you maintain proper inventory levels.
Security guards are workers tasked with protecting a store against retail theft and, in some cases, violent crime. They can confront shoplifters and prevent them from leaving the store with stolen merchandise, though many stores train their guards to avoid physical confrontations and instead call the police. Security guards may wield weapons depending on state and local laws. Security guards work best as deterrents to theft.
Store layout choices
You can cut down on retail theft without buying any equipment by making strategic choices about store layout. For example, placing high-value items behind the cash register can deter thieves. It also helps to keep valuable items away from store entrances, where someone could quickly grab an item and leave the store unnoticed.
Manage inventory from one back office
Shopify POS comes with tools to help you manage warehouse and store inventory in one place. Forecast demand, set low stock alerts, create purchase orders, know which items are selling or sitting on shelves, count inventory, and more.
Retail anti-theft devices FAQ
What are examples of anti-theft devices?
Retail anti-theft devices include electronic article surveillance (EAS) systems with security tags, ink tags that eject ink when improperly removed, and locking cases that can only be opened by authorized personnel.
Can retail anti-theft devices cause false alarms?
Yes, retail anti-theft devices can sometimes cause false alarms. To combat this, retail personnel and security guards must examine the person who triggered the alarm and any merchandise they’re carrying.
Do retail anti-theft devices require maintenance?
Yes, electronic anti-theft devices like EAS systems and RFID tags may require regular maintenance. The vendor who sells you these products may roll out hardware and software updates to make their systems as effective as possible.
Can retail anti-theft devices be deactivated after purchase?
Yes, retail anti-theft devices can be deactivated anytime, provided you have the proper equipment. EAS devices, for example, are deactivated at the point of purchase. Turning off an alarm or camera requires access to the system.